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The Story Of Lucy

Posted April 14th, 2011 in Friendship by Glenn Plaskin

D (for Dog) Day.

And double D—for a dose of dread.

Why? Because, like a runaway groom, there I was, ready to bolt, on the edge, in anticipation of a true life-changing adventure.

Should I or shouldn’t I? That had been the question burning up the phone lines for weeks.

My 88-year-old friend Bud advised no.(‘Too much work. You can’t.“)

Lucy with her brother on the day they parted

My therapist counseled yes. (“A puppy would be great for you”)

My risk-averse mom lectured definitely no. (“What if you have to travel for work?”)

My dog-loving friends, walking their pooches from dawn to dusk, kept the pressure up. (“What’s taking you so long?”)

And my friend Peg, a life coach, rationally asked: “What are the pluses and minuses?”

Lucy at six weeks old

I advised myself—yes and no–depending on the hour of the day. Nothing kills decisiveness faster than polling opinions. And the more advice I collected, the less I knew.

It had been eight long years since I did it–and I was rusty.

In 2002, after the death of my cocker spaniel Katie (the star of Katie Up And Down The Hall), I was leveled by the loss. Left behind was a lonely vacuum and the memory of those years when she raced up and down our long hallway, uniting a hallway of complete strangers, and turning them into a family.

Her loving presence had immeasurably enriched my life.

My companion of fifteen years was now gone. The apartment was eerily empty, the hallway depressingly silent.

How could I ever forget her—or replace her?

I know many people go right out and get a new dog. I just didn’t.

I instead focused on work, though, after about a year, I did begin thinking about getting a new puppy—and thinking and thinking some more. But that’s all I did.

On three occasions, I came close, and put down deposits for a new cocker spaniel. But each time, at the last minute and to the chagrin of the breeders (who stopped talking to me), I backed out.

After that, I visited animal shelters, toying with the idea of adopting an adult dog, but I didn’t do that either. On one occasion, to psyche myself into it, I even went out and bought $400 worth of dog equipment, but returned it all the next day.

I’d lost my nerve and questioned my physical energy. I also dreaded the idea of housebreaking a puppy and upsetting my empty but compulsively neat household.

Adept at raising Katie as I’d been, my confidence had somehow dissolved.

Could I train a dog again? Did I want to?

The thought of it snowballed and built up to a mountain of resistance. Finally, I felt there was no way to climb that peak, as it was too fraught with danger, complication, and inconvenience.

Looking back, I had distorted the challenge into something it wasn’t, so that little puppy had grown into an 800-pound gorilla.

And so I went for eight years, second-guessing myself into no decision, until D Day, when I finally pushed myself over the edge of the cliff.

*  *  *  *  *

Touching Lucy for the very first time

On a warm, sunny morning last May, I set off with my close friends Peg and Jason. We headed from Manhattan to the rendezvous spot in Middletown, NY to finally pick up my new cocker spaniel puppy. I’d named her Lucy.  Peg did the driving, and Jason did the reassuring.

A few days earlier, like that runaway groom, I was filled with dread (code word for fear), about to commit but ready to flee. My stomach was all growly. For weeks preceding D-Day, I’d walked in and out of pet stores picking up all the equipment for “the nursery.”

All set up at home, in the dining room, was the metal kennel, lined with a cushy blanket with a design of monkeys, and filled a giant Hippopotamus plush toy, a pink velour blanket, squeaky rattles, kongs, and balls—all ready for the 7-pound puppy.

Over the seven weeks leading up to the big day, the breeder, Dolores, had been sending photo updates from her farm. At first, Lucy was just a mush of fur, like a blond koala bear, easily fitting into the palm of the hand. By the fifth week, though, with ridiculously long ears, and fluffy paws, she was definitely a spaniel, her innate adorableness unquestionable.

“She’s a stunner,” assured Dolores. “You’re going to love her.”

Lucy waiting for us in the back of the station wagon

That day, we met Dolores, a no-nonsense woman in her 60’s, in the parking lot of a highway coffee shop, the Quick-way Diner, and instantly spotted her beat-up station wagon.

“Maybe I won’t get out of the car,” I joked to Jason, in no rush at all. “Let me know what she looks like.

“Oh, Glenn P! Come on. Let’s take a look.”  Mmmm. Peg was already halfway to the car. I snailed my way over. Dolores firmly grasped my hand in welcome.

“She’s in the back with her brother,” she clipped, lifting up the hatch.

And there, curled up inside the silver metal kennel, was Lucy—who seemed tinier in life than in the photos, shyly snuggled next to her brown-haired brother.

Dolores scooped limp Lucy up and handed her over to me. She was so soft, dropping her head on my forearm, sleepy from the 2-hour drive. Adorable, yes.

On my lap in the car, going home

But holding her, I admit I didn’t feel the instant bolt of connection and parental love I’d felt with Katie. Let’s just say my reaction was lukewarm.

Just as I had wanted to retreat from Australia and relinquish that writing job, I wanted to bolt from Middletown and let someone else adopt little Lucy.

In fact, I pulled Jason into the restaurant’s men’s room to talk to him about it, questioning whether or not I should proceed.

“Yes!!” he told me. “You’ve got to. She’s precious—perfect.”

So reluctantly, I wrote the check, and on the way home, sat in the backseat of the car–numb. Although I felt affectionate toward Lucy, I was unconvinced.

That first night together, Lucy was in my bedroom, housed in a corral lined with strongly scented wee-wee pads. The smell was nauseating….and by morning I was freaking out, convinced that I DID NOT WANT HER. It was nothing personal—I just didn’t want to start all over again. I’d made a mistake.

Mike and Helen Lee, experienced dog-owners in my apartment building with a pug named Duchess, came in and suggested that all the dog equipment be moved two rooms away into the dining room, far from the bed. “Your crib and hers should be separate,” they advised.

Jason, a great friend to me and Lucy, and with us on the very first day

Our great friend Peg, who did all the driving (and coaching!)

That helped, but I’m embarrassed to admit that over the next week, I asked the disgruntled breeder if I could return Lucy (the answer was yes, but no refund), after which I walked around the neighborhood with my pup, actively recruiting people who might be interested in adopting her.

I felt so ashamed–and weak. I was sweating for sure.

I just couldn’t wrap my mind, and heart, around having this new being in my space, beautiful and sweet as she was.

On the outside, I was meticulous in my care of her, doing everything right, but I didn’t feel right on the inside. I had to ride the anxiety like a dangerous wave.

On the car ride home, sitting peacefully in my lap.

*  *  *  *  *

After about a week of hanging on, something inside me began to shift.

That little beast began to seduce me—licking my face, posing for pictures, rolling on her back, waiting for tummy rubs, and, like all hyperkinetic puppies, racing furiously around, wearing herself out, before curling into my arms for long naps.

With her stretched out against me, I’d fall asleep too, my breath following hers. And I soon started to relax into the routine.

So just as in Australia, when I stayed steady and conquered the fear, I did it again, slowly dismissing the thought of making a hasty retreat.

How did I do it? I learned that the secret was getting outside—outside my head, and outside into the park.

Out there, waiting for us, were more than 700 neighborhood dogs. Our Battery Park City community was the perfect training ground for Lucy, and as it turned out, for me.

A lot can happen when you go outside for walks eight times a day.

I watched my bouncy spaniel strut along our tree-lined walkway along the Hudson, the Esplanade, wildly eager to make new canine friends. We bumped into big dogs and small ones, Lucy furiously pulling the leash to sniff and snoop. No matter how big the dog, Lucy showed no fear, jumping up on them, and playfully whacking them on the face with her paws. She rolled over on her stomach, did somersaults in the grass, chased their tails, licked their faces, and whirled merrily in circles.

And that was just the dogs. Lucy equally longed to crawl into any lap she could—from seniors and babies to a cavalcade of kids excited to hold her, chase her, feed her, and cradle her. So into the arms of countless people she went—friends, neighbors, and total strangers, including tourists homesick for their dogs and eager to be photographed with her.

Lucy flew over to them, her tail wagging, her trust complete. Nothing fazed her. Even when little kids were screaming and pawing her, she laughed it off. You could even turn Lucy upside down—I sometimes did—and she came back wanting more.

Babies, in particular, fascinated her, and she tried to crawl into their carriages and snuggle close, licking their toes. Through it all, her zest and non-stop energy energized me. The more I watched her interact with others, the more I fell in love with her myself. Her happiness made me happy.

And as I sat outside chatting with old friends and making new ones– taking pictures and recording videos of Lucy—I found myself being more social and extroverted than I’d been in years. I realized that Lucy was helping socialize ME. This was an unexpected bonus—and one of the secrets to cementing my commitment.

And in the end, I wound up with more friends than I ever imagined I would. My social life expanded exponentially due the incredible cuteness of my puppy and her outgoing, friendly disposition.

All kinds of people came over to  “our” bench to talk, watch the sailboats glide by, and pet Lucy, who studied the birds perched above her in the huge oak tree. Fellow dog-owners began giving me canine toys and books about training a puppy; we made late-night visits for housebreaking tips, shared dinners out by the Hudson, and traded vet stories. I also consulted with dog-walkers, pet store clerks, and professional trainers about the best way to raise a pup.

And by surrounding myself with people who knew more than I did—my puppy mentors–I gained strength and courage. In fact, finding mentors turned out to be one of the prime secrets of successfully raising Lucy.

And so it was that the reassurance, advice, and support I needed to accomplish something new was to be found outside. All my qualms, fears, reservations, and insecurities literally vanished. That’s the power of connection with others—rather than disconnection, a product of fear.

I discovered that I was much more flexible and adaptable than I’d given myself credit for. I found thatthe real challenge with Lucy was letting go—releasing tight control of my environment, and allowing her messiness and unique spirit to invade it. I had to be willing to share my space, and heart, with this magical little being.

Nowadays, I adore my dog. She’s delicious–mischievous, fun, smart, and beautiful.

Every single evening, there she is, industriously chewing on her rawhide bone as I read or watch TV. Then, as midnight approaches, she climbs up on my chest and rests her head on my shoulders, yawning in my face, or licking it. She then snuggles up against me, my own little furnace, keeping me warm all through the night. It’s just blissful.

The irony is that she’s become the greatest thing in my life—and yet I was willing to let her go.

This only proves how strong but irrational fear can be—threatening life’s greatest pleasures.

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We Are Not Running A Zoo: So Make Your Dog A Good Citizen

Posted March 4th, 2011 in Socialization of Dogs, Socializing Dogs by Glenn Plaskin

Last night, my new puppy, Lucy, and I were heading out for an evening walk along the Hudson River, when danger lurked, just around the bend.

As we were moving into the lobby and toward the exit doors, Lucy mischievously broke away from me, her leash whipping out of my hand as she raced toward our dog-loving doorman Dave, her tail merrily wagging.

Lucy with our doorman Dave

Lucy at Borders, great at press events and book signings

Lucy is the happiest, friendliest puppy imaginable–and one of the reasons she turned out that way is because she was socialized extensively from the time she was 8 weeks old. I exposed her to babies and kids of all ages, dogs of all sizes and breeds, city noises, escalaters, elevators, any and everything.

Lucy at 8 weeks old, when she first began socializing

Anyway, as Lucy trotted over to Dave, one of the neighbors in my 35-story-highrise was entering the lobby from outside with his two Akitas, a majestic breed, known to be loyal and intelligent. They do, however, need to be socialized as puppies so they are friendly dogs and should have experienced owners.

In this case, the owner keeps these 100-pound plus dogs on a very tight leash because they look aggressive, not playful or friendly in the least. Having observed them many times, they frankly look as if they’re going to lunge toward another dog and eat them! Hostile is the word.

I’ve seen this many times–as dogs seem to divide themselves between the well-socialized ones–and those sadly filled with fear. (Not the dog’s fault!)

As my congenial puppy trotted over to these two dogs, one of them growled, and looked ready to pounce. I immediately pulled Lucy away and got a lecture from the owner about keeping my dog on a leash–”there’s a reason they have dogs on a leash laws!”–indeed, as the implication was that if his dogs were free, they’d be a significant threat to other dogs.

So well socialized that she visits book stores to sign autographs with her paws

First of all, my dog accidentally got away from me, and she was on a leash. But the real problem is this: If you have dogs in a large residential complex that houses many others dogs–and kids–and these dogs are hostile, poorly socialized, or a potential threat to others–THEY SHOULD NOT BE LIVING IN THE BUILDING AT ALL. After all, what happens if one of these aggressive dogs accidentally breaks away on the leash just as mine did– what then?

Is a child or another dog going to be in danger?

As I told the owner, much to his displeasure–”If you have dogs who are aggressive and are poorly socialized, they should not be living in a residential building with hundreds of other dogs and people around them.”  We are not running a zoo.

Lucy likes to read!

The sad part is that this is not the dog’s fault. It’s the owners–who did not properly socialize their dog.

In order to successfully do this, it MUST happen within the first 16 weeks. So while vets differ on whether or not you should keep your puppy away from adult dogs until they have all their shots, I can tell you that a puppy must play with other dogs from 8 weeks on. Lucy did it and she was absolutely fine–never catching anything–as most well-cared for dogs have had their shots, and are not contagious.

Lucy socializing with twin girls on the lawn outside our building

Remember, socialization is the window of time in our puppy’s lives that determines who they will become as adult dogs.

Lucy's Best Friend, Stanley

Socializing includes curious babies

Lucy loves pit bull Donny

As I recently read in the excellent ‘complete guide to responsible dog ownership’ site:“The temperament, character and behavior habits of your puppy are developed during this socialization period – and will last a lifetime. It affects how your puppy will relate to his family, strangers, animals and the environment in which he lives.

“Puppy socialization stimulates the five senses of your young dog. It is the introduction, exposure and desensitization to the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch of everyday life. The socialization period conditions your puppy to the many different situations he needs to be familiar with and comfortable around. It also prepares him to deal with the new experiences and challenges which inevitably arise throughout life in an appropriate manner.

“Puppy socialization is the crucial stage where you begin to build the close bond you share with your dog, one that will last forever. It’s up to you – any puppy can become a well adjusted and trusted member of society through proper socialization.

Lucy with her majestic friend Cesare

We owe it to our puppies to provide them with thorough socialization.”

And when we do–the result is a good canine citizen for life, a source of joy to kids, adults, and other dogs–the best possible companion imaginable, like my Lucy.

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Photo Album From Recent Borders Book Signing

Posted March 2nd, 2011 in Friendship by Glenn Plaskin

One of the stars of the KATIE book, Naya, who took such wonderful care of Pearl ("Granny")

Great photographer Maura Lynch, Lucy's devoted friend

Naya, Pearl's dear friend Lee, one of the principal characters in KATIE, and Lucy

Glenn and Lucy with Ed Friedel

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Borders Book Signing for KATIE–Welcoming Westminster Fans & Puppy Lucy on Valentine’s Day

Posted February 11th, 2011 in Friendship by Glenn Plaskin

Puppy Lucy, now 10 months old

For all you dog lovers and puppy aficionados, please stop by Borders Penn Plaza this coming Monday evening, from 5-7 pm, to meet my mischievous cocker spaniel LUCY–who promises to put her paw print on each signed copy of KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL.

It seems fitting to have our final signing for the hardcover edition of KATIE on Valentine’s Day, as the book is really a love story–about what can happen when you open your door to strangers.

Katie, the heroine of our book, perspicaciously unites a group  unforgettable characters –charismatic octogenarians Pearl and Arthur, an adorable three-year-old named Ryan, and his Dad John. Over a period of sixteen years, the reader follows our many adventures, including Hollywood high times (Katie meeting her namesake Katharine Hepburn) and the perils of 9/11. Just watch the book trailer and see.

Lucy Meets Judge Judy

We’ll be signing at Manhattan’s Penn Plaza Borders, right next to Madison Square Garden, the site of the Westminster Dog Show, and many of the fans, breeders, and dog handlers will be stopping by after a long day of competition.

Included with your book will be chocolate for V. Day (a chocolate dog bone), a stuffed cocker spaniel puppy (so bring your kids), and a special Katie Up And Down The Hall book mark.

Lucy meets Calvin Klein--host of the KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL launch party

So whether you favor Basset hounds, poodles, beagles or pugs, (or my favorite, cocker spaniels), among dozens of other breeds at Westminster 2011, stop by the show and afterward, come see us!

Lucy in green ribbons

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